John Flansburgh Interview

Tastes Like Chicken, December 2003

A note from Flansburgh about the following interview: "While examining the tastes like chicken site, I couldn't help but notice the Shia LaBeouf interview is currently the most read piece. So in an effort to recapture that magic, I am going to answer the exact same questions, just to see how I might fare. The questions are the same-- only my answers are different. The "hippie family/chicken training" stuff isn't true, but I suspect it wasn't true in the original interview, either. No LaBeoufs were injured during the making of this piece."

The following introduction has been >>slightly modified<< from the Shia LaBeouf intro by John Flansburgh.


Flansburgh: Hi, Beth. Thanks for letting me use your interview questions for Shia LaBeouf!

Bethany: Good. Wow, your voice is really low.

F: Well, it's early in the morning.

B: So, I'm with a paper called tastes like chicken--

F: Wow. That's a great name.

B: Yeah. It's awesome.

F: I really like these long form Internet interviews. You get to say a lot more than in the short ones.

B: It's weird hearing you talk like that, because I only see you on TV, and you're so little and "Disney-ish".

F: Ah, well, I sing higher than I talk. Sorry if this is freaking you out.

B: No, no. I like this better.

F: Alright then!

B: Alright. By law I have to let you know that you're being recorded, so they don't try and come and get me or something.

F: No problem. I talk really fast, so it's better that it be recorded-- less misquotes. But, you know, I wonder if you got sent to Rikers Island if you could find anybody in there for illegally taping an interview. I'm not sure how strictly those laws get enforced. (laughs)

B: How did you get started? I heard you went to places around your neighborhood, like coffee clubs.

F: Actually, (John) Linnell and I started in performance art spaces in the East Village in New York City. We had a lot of props, but it wasn't exactly Carrot Top.

B: What kind of material did you use?

F: Material? It was more spontaneous than that. But we did have a pre-recorded tape for a rhythm track.

B: Oh my gosh!

F: I'm not going to lie to you, but we weren't trying to fake anybody out. It was on stage with us spinning around. We actually thought it was kinda rockin', in a New Wave kinda way. But it was the Eighties, so New Wave was cool.

B: Right on. Where did you go, and what was the reaction of the crowd?

F: Most people got it, but some folks thought it was kinda pretentious. Looking back on it, they probably just thought it was kind of lame and un-rock 'n' roll. We played all the clubs in New York. We actually played at CBGB enough to be accepted by that crowd, which was pretty much a straight rock crowd. I got pretty used to TMBG feeling out of place in a lot of different contexts. (laughs)

B: How old were you?

F: I guess I was 25, 26.

B: I read somewhere that your dad was in the circus, and that he was a chicken trainer.

F: That's true. My whole family is chicken trainers. (laughs)

B: We at tastes like chicken got very excited about that. Is this true?

F: This is SO true. Our family had three chickens. We lived in a pretty nice house in a town called Henrietta, Florida. It's right next to the town where all the circus people train. Henrietta is pretty much all chicken trainers. We'd run around and light rings on fire, and the chickens would run through them. Or we'd put the chicken on our heads and do a flip, and the chicken would run down our backs. It was pretty funny.

B: Does a love for chickens run through your blood as well?

F: I love chicken.

B: Do you put ketchup on your chicken?

F: Sometimes. More often, tabasco. I also love that Vietnamese hot sauce.

B: You do?

F: Oh yeah. And that new green tabasco is pretty good, too.

B: Oh, baby, that sounds so good. Okay, who would win in a pie eating contest: Tony Hawk or Andy Irons?

F: I don't know who Andy Irons is, actually. But Tony Hawk seems awfully thin to win a pie eating contest.

B: Aaron Carter?

F: I don't know who that is.

B: Aaron Carter, the singer?

F: I have to apologize. I'm not really up on a lot of pop stuff.

B: You're bad!

F: No, I'm not! It's more a generational thing. My head is filled with trivial rock performers from the Seventies and Eighties! Hey-- I love how this interview is going so far. Can you send me this when it's published?

B: I'm gonna send you one.

F: Thanks!

B: We're not done yet, though, so calm down.

F: Oh. I'm having a great time.

B: Are you on your lunch?

F: No. Actually, this is my way of getting out of driving. So you can ask as many questions as you like.

B: So, you're into making your own short films?

F: Yeah. Really just rock videos, but you could call them short films.

B: What are they about?

F: Me and Linnell singing, mostly. Sometimes other people. I've done videos for a lot of great people-- Frank Black, Ben Folds Five, this Scottish guy named Edwyn Collins who had a great international hit called "Never Met A Girl Like You Before". I also did a video for Harvey Danger called "Private Helicopter". That came out really, really great, but ended up only getting played a couple of times. That's the luck of the draw with MTV.

B: Are you serious?

F: Yeah. It's a cruel world.

B: Animal cruelty.

F: Well, musicians are a lot like animals, but they're not really animals.

B: How busy are you with the show?

F: We've been doing so many of these free in-store performance and signing things. They are really exhausting, and I'm not sure why. You feel like you're running for Congress or something.

B: What have you been auditioning for?

F: We don't really have to audition, but we do have to submit demos when we do advertising stuff. We find that unless the demo is really finished sounding, it's hard to get the job. Advertising guys don't want to hear a scratch version.

B: Your dad's a total hippy?

F: My whole family, actually.

B: Where's your family from?

F: Henrietta, Florida.

B: I know you surf a lot. Are you also into skating?

F: I used to be into skating. I used to be way into dirt biking, but I hurt my knee, so I had to stop. Plus, the band wouldn't let me dirt bike, but I did anyway.

B: So with all the surfing you do, have you ever had a limb bitten off by a shark?

F: No. I've been lucky so far, I guess!

B: Really?

F: Well, yeah.

B: Do you ever help write any of the episodes of Even Stevens?

F: Sometimes I talk back to the TV in character voices just to make it more interesting. That's my way of contributing.

B: If you were to be able to write and direct an episode, what would the storyline be?

F: Probably just me and Linnell back in Florida, training--

B: With a bunch of chicks around him?

F: Yeah. With little chicks running around. Rings of fire.

B: tastes like chicken loves the show--

F: Thanks!

B: Who do you think would make a better pet: a llama or Don Knotts?

F: Aaron Carter.

B: Is he your best friend or something?

F: No. I'm just doing a "call back". That's what they call it in comedy, when you bring back an abandoned motif from earlier in the sketch or routine. I don't really know who Aaron Carter is, but if I call back his name, it will probably be interesting to the people who do know him.

B: Well, which do you think would be a softer pet between a llama and Don Knotts?

F: I guess I'd have to go with Don Knotts. I really love Don Knotts.

B: Because you're so busy, do you feel like you're missing out on things that normal people your age would do?

F: Being in a rock band can be a bit of a Peter Pan existence, but other times it feels like being a traveling salesman.

B: So you don't go to a regular school?

F: I'm out of school now.

B: So what about college for you?

F: I went to art school. The Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. It really changed my life.

B: What made you want to get into that?

F: It was kind of my last chance. I had failed at all the other kinds of school, so I gave art a chance, and it really helped me become a creative person.

B: What's your favorite ride at Disneyland?

F: Space Mountain.

B: Space Mountain? Right on. But what about Indiana Jones?

F: I've never been on it.

B: How often do you get to Disneyland?

F: Actually, I've never been to Disneyland. I just like the name "Space Mountain". But it's funny you bring Disneyland up, because in spite of our lack of personal experience, we are actually currently working on a version of "The Main Street Electrical Parade" for a compilation for Disney. That song is part of a ride in Disneyland, and a lot of people have very strong emotional feelings about that piece of music. I don't know how to approach it yet. Maybe I should finally go!

B: Would you ever want to host SNL?

F: Sure, I suppose. Although, I've never really done comedy,.. but it seems like it would be fun.

B: Do dogs have lips?

F: That's a great question. I was always confused that they don't seem to have belly buttons, but that's a different deal. Slobbery dogs seem to have lips, but kinda inverted lips that let the slobber come down. More tidy, less houndish dogs seem lipless. But I'm glad you asked.

B: Okay, well, I think that's all the questions I have.

F: Can I ask you some questions about tastes like chicken?

B: Sure.

F: Is it like Maxim or something? Or like Mad?

B: It's kind of hard to explain. It's not really like Mad, but it's a humor paper.

F: It's for college kids though, right?

B: Mostly, yeah.

F: Alright, cool. I'm glad I didn't just sound like I was hijacking Shia LaBeouf's world, if this was an interview for Disney Magazine or something like that.

B: Oh, no. It's definitely kind of raw.

F: Cool. That's what I was thinking when you called. I was like, "Alright. I'm just going to be real."

B: We definitely want people to be real. Because why would I want to call you and ask you--


B: --stupid shit.

F: Well, thank you for this interview.

B: No problem. Thank you.